Liberal Neutrality and Charitable Purposes

Nick Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Under UK charity law, organisations seeking charitable status must demonstrate, inter alia, that they will pursue a purpose the state deems ‘charitable’. Such purposes inevitably reflect conceptions of the good, thus it is argued here that the state, in granting charitable status, affirms the value of ideas about the good; it indicates that a set of conceptions of the good are worthy of special advantages that are not provided for the pursuit of other conceptions. The designation of charitable status appears to be at odds with liberal neutrality, which argues that the state should not pursue, promote or pass judgement on particular conceptions of the good. In short, there is a prima facie tension between the general liberal neutrality doctrine and charity law. Yet liberal neutralists have not addressed this policy area. This article surveys the grounds for reconciliation between some conceptions of liberal neutrality and the present charity law. ‘Neutrality of effect’ addresses some concerns but its implications for charity law are not in accord with the general practice and principles regarding charities. Barry's process of abstraction is argued to be untenable as a policy option for charities. The article concludes that in so far as one is neutralist, ‘neutrality of justification’ in the form of neutral goods provides the most plausible account of charity law. However, such an account entails alterations to the existing legislation that one may view as a failure to account for well-established, legitimate principles and traditions in charity law.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)936-952
JournalPolitical Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2012


  • liberal neutrality
  • charity
  • charitable purposes
  • reflective equilibrium

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